Episode Twelve: Stress in Libraries

Stress(You can listen to our podcast here, or download it at iTunes or any podcast app you enjoy!)

Topic of the Week: Stress in the Library Workplace

Libraries are generally wonderful places to work – we all like it here!

But you also know that some days are just hard. We are a customer service profession, and that means dealing with all kinds of people every day: patrons, supervisors, colleagues – and it can be stressful.

It is not a surprise to anyone in the library field that we are feeling stressed at work. Any discussions between librarians seem to turn to the issues they are facing and ways they are solving problems, or not solving them.

There have been many articles published with vague suggestions for reducing stress, including “take deep breaths” or “smile more often” – not completely helpful advice for many library people attempting to deal with increasing patrons pressures and decreasing funding.

Today we are going to talk about the some of my research work, which identified some of the most common sources of stress. Then we will talk about taking some organized steps to help alleviate or eliminate these stressors.

It is time to get past the idea that workplace stress is an issue affecting library people on just an individual level, and to begin to look at stress as a widespread issue we can address across the profession. Then we can help everyone to be more satisfied at work, and more productive!

Research: Q Method

This is a research method developed in the Psychology field, which is starting to be used more frequently in other areas. It involves will help blend some qualitative and quantitative issues to give a different kind of look at issues. That is, it lets us look at the feelings and preferences of patrons, but in a way that uses sophisticated statistical analysis to show useful results. Many LIS studies focus on user expectations and user needs; using only qualitative or quantitative methodologies may not give a complete answer.

Q method can be used in person or online, and the basic idea is the same. Participants are given a set of cards, each with a separate idea, and they are asked to sort the cards according to their own preferences from highest to lowest. After the sorting is done, they write their individual ordering on an answer sheet. At the conclusion of the study, those answers are entered into the statistical software by the researcher. Participants are also asked to share any additional ideas on the subject, to round out the data.

This method gives you a lot of interesting data that you can share with library staff, patrons, and other stakeholders. The results include not only the ideas your participants think are important, but also breaks out groups of participants to help you understand them. Being able to move beyond giving information about the library with just stories about patron use or door counts/computer use counts/reference question counts will help present a stronger view of what it is that libraries and librarians actually do and the contributions we make – as well as discovering areas where we can add or improve services.


Three groups of people were found in this study, each feeling the effects of a particular group of stressors in their libraries.

Group One:
“All These People!”

Group 1 stressors

  • Never taking meal breaks
  • Personal/family issues intruding at work
  • Issues with members of the public
  • Lack of personal space to work
  • Issues with students

Group Two:
“Stuff Happens”

Group 2 stressors in common:

  • Lack of personal space to work
  • Lack of time to finish work
  • Difficulties with co-workers
  • Lots of interruptions to your work
  • Personal control over your time
  • Pressure to be successful
  • Many deadlines to meet
  • Shifting schedule

Group Three
“It’s Just Everything!”

Group 3 common stressors:

  • Lack of personal space to work
  • Shifting schedules
  • Personal control to your time
  • Issues with members of the public
  • Never taking meal breaks
  • Technology you train patrons to use
  • Building facilities
  • Technology you use at work

Think about the stressors that may be affecting you in your library, or your staff or colleagues. Stress is very widespread in the library profession, so know that you are NOT alone!

It is much better to be proactive in taking some steps to address stress before it becomes a serious problem.

We are going to talk about some strategies to help you with stress at different levels of your work.

And of course, if anyone out there is feeling more stress than is healthy for them and it is evolving into problems with burnout and depression – there are resources available to help you! You are never alone in the library profession, even working as a solo librarian. Work with your EAP, if you have one, to find some counselors in your area. And you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255; they are available 24/7 to help you – so please reach out.

Individual Stress Busters

These are the stress reduction strategies an individual has the most control over using, but may not address the source of the stress without other support.

  • Good health, exercise, and diet
  • Remove emotion
  • Develop alternative strategies
  • Confront directly
  • Communicate – and listen
  • Outside interests

Library-wide stress busters

Similar stressors can affect many people in the same workplace. Looking for strategies to reduce these stressors can help everyone in the library.

  • Do some research
  • Identify 2 or 3 common stressors
  • Work with a group to address
  • Make a plan – with details
  • Evaluate
  • Follow up!

Profession-wide stress busters

Stress is an issue increasingly important in the work of most, if not all, librarians. But there have been minimal efforts to address the problem at the highest levels of the profession. Developing some strategies to help us all cope would be an important benefit.

  • More research!
  • Widespread discussion
  • Acknowledgement of the nature of the problem
  • Training in library schools and certificate programs
  • Continuing education programs

Books we are reading


Mammoth, by John Varley “Not content with investing his fortune and watching it grow, multibillionaire Howard Christian buys rare cars that he actually drives, acquires collectible toys that he actually plays with, and builds buildings that defy the imagination. But now his restless mind has turned to a new obsession: cloning a mammoth…

In a barren province of Canada, a mammoth hunter financed by Christian has made the discovery of a lifetime: an intact frozen woolly mammoth. But what he finds during the painstaking process of excavating the huge creature baffles the mind. Huddled next to the mammoth is the mummified body of a Stone Age man around 12,000 years old. And he is wearing a wristwatch.

It looks like Howard Christian is going to get his wish—and more…”



What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami “An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami.While simply training for New York City Marathon would be enough for most people, Haruki Murakami’s decided to write about it as well. The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit.”


Spotlight Library:

Kathryn A. Martin Library at the University of Duluth

(side note: Mary will be presenting at the Lake Superior Libraries Symposium on Friday June 9. If you have not already registered, check out this conference!)

This library recently sponsored a fantastic series of stress-relieving activities for students before finals! You can adopt them for your own students and patrons – and be sure you incorporate stress relief into your own daily work life and that of your colleagues!

  •  Unwind with Stress-Less Week in the library!
    • The week before finals is a very stress and anxiety inducing time for college students. Fifteen weeks of deadlines, cram sessions, responsibilities, and projects can coalesce into an emotional and tense time. The Kathryn A. Martin Library and a host of campus partners band together each semester to offer programs and activities designed to reduce and alleviate the mental toll of the semester.  Welcome to Stress-less Week Spring 2017, April 23-29!  All events are free to students.
  • AND!!! There is a continuing program that meets several times each semester:
    • UMD Pet Away Worry & Stress  http://www.d.umn.edu/health-services/health-education/paws
    • Pet Away Worry and Stress (PAWS)
      • UMD PAWS is a program designed to lower stress levels in students, faculty and staff by bringing in therapy animals on campus once a month. This collaborative event is sponsored by Animal Allies, UMD Employee Health and Wellness Program, KUMD, The Kathryn A. Martin Library, UMD Health Services,  UMD Wellness Collaborative,  Office of Environmental Health & Safety, and Kirby Student Center.
  • Students, staff and faculty, on average, rated themselves to be 38% less stressed after hanging out with their furry friends at UMD PAWS
  • Read about some of the furific pets that visit campus: DieselLucy,TornadoBonnie and Perry and Sammy


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Next week tune in as we talk about local history collections!

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